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Against the Odds: Phage's Vengeance (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 251 of Against the Odds. Last week, we kept our string of "win the game" Modern polls alive, and this time, Phage the Untouchable took home an easy victory over the rest of the field. While we did technically play Phage in an Against the Odds deck back in 2016, we were actually playing a Endless Whispers deck—it just happened that Phage the Untouchable is one of the best finishers for Endless Whispers. As such, we've somehow never had a real Phage episode of Against the Odds. Today's deck is a lot different than the Endless Whispers build. Rather than trying to get enough mana to cast Phage the Untouchable naturally, we're looking to cheat it into play, which requires some tricks to make sure we don't accidentally kill ourselves when Phage the Untouchable enters the battlefield. The reward is that with the help of Goryo's Vengeance, we can get a hasty Phage in play for as little as two mana and theoretically kill our opponent as early as Turn 3! What are the odds of winning with Phage the Untouchable in Modern? How many times will we accidentally kill ourselves with Phage's enters-the-battlefield trigger? What massive punts might this episode contain? Let's get to the video and find out in today's Against the Odds; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Phage's Vengeance

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The Deck

Heading into the building process, apart from winning (and hopefully doing something cool) with Phage the Untouchable, I also wanted to make sure that today's deck felt different from the Endless Whispers deck from back in 2016. While I messed around with a Phage build of Mono-Black Devotion for a while, in the end, it felt like we either won or less with other cards like Phyrexian Obliterator and Gray Merchant of Asphodel rather than Phage, which isn't ideal for an Against the Odds build. After giving up on Mono-Black Devotion, I decided to build the fastest Phage the Untouchable kill deck possible, which ended up being the Phage's Vengeance deck we're playing today!

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Phage the Untouchable is one of the most unique creatures in all of Magic. It can kill an opponent from any life total if it hits with just a single attack, but it also has the harshest negative enters-the-battlefield trigger in all of Magic, literally making us lose the game if Phage the Untouchable comes into play in any way other than being cast from our hand. One would think this would mean that we'd be stuck trying to ramp into Phage the Untouchable and cast it for seven mana, but thankfully, there are a few ways to cheat Phage into play from places other than our hand while still avoiding losing the game, which is the main plan of our deck...

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The first step to winning the game with Phage the Untouchable is actually getting it on the battlefield without dying. In theory, we can hard cast it for seven mana, but our main plan is to use Tocatli Honor Guard and Torpor Orb to fizzle Phage the Untouchable's enters-the-battlefield trigger. With either of these cards on the battlefield, we are free to cheat Phage into play and live to tell the tale. Of course, these cards stop all enters-the-battlefield triggers, not just Phage's, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on the matchup. Tocatli Honor Guard and Torpor Orb can beat decks like Goblins all by themselves but can also accidentally give our opponent a Turn 3 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath by stopping its "sacrifice" trigger.

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The second step to winning with Phage the Untouchable, at least for our deck, is getting Phage into the graveyard so we can cheat it into play on the cheap with reanimation. For this, we have a bunch of different options, ranging from Insolent Neonate and Cathartic Reunion, which simply allow us to discard cards to draw new ones, to Lightning Axe, which is a solid removal spell in decks that actively want to discard cards, and Stinkweed Imp, as a solid blocker that can also dredge Phage into the graveyard.

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Step three of winning with Phage the Untouchable is getting Phage out of the graveyard and onto the battlefield. Since we only need to connect a single time with Phage to win the game, our reanimation is focused not on keeping Phage the Untouchable around permanently but on giving Phage the Untouchable haste so we can attack right away and (hopefully) win the game. Our best reanimation spell is Goryo's Vengeance since it only costs two mana. In theory, something like Insolent Neonate (to discard Phage) on Turn 1 into Torpor Orb or Tocatli Honor Guard on Turn 2 allows us to win the game on Turn 3 by reanimating Phage the Untouchable and getting in a hasty attack. Whip of Erebos and Kenrith, the Returned King give us backup reanimation with additional upsides, with both Whip and Kenrith gaining us life against aggro and Kenrith, the Returned King also having the ability to give Phage the Untouchable trample so we can win with Phage's combat damage trigger even through a chump blocker or two.

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The final piece of the puzzle to winning the game with Phage the Untouchable is evasion. Since Phage actually has to connect with our opponent to make them lose the game and because most of our reanimation is temporary, with Phage the Untouchable exiling itself at the end of turn, we really need to make sure that we can connect with Phage's attack when we reanimate Phage. Key to the City is great in the deck, not only giving us another way to discard Phage the Untouchable so we can reanimate it but also giving a creature unblockable for free, making sure that Phage actually hits our opponent when it attacks, even through blockers. Meanwhile, Shizo, Death's Storehouse is mostly a freeroll since it's a land that comes into play untapped, and it also offers a strong form of evasion in fear, making Phage the Untouchable unblockable by everything but black creatures.

The Matchups

The matchups for Phage's Vengeance mostly come down to two things: how much graveyard hate our opponent has and how many ways they have to kill things like Torpor Orb and Tocatli Honor Guard. While we have answers to graveyard hate in our sideboard, cards like Relic of Progenitus, Leyline of the Void, and Rest in Peace are what we want to see least across the battlefield since if our graveyard is shut down, then rather than cheating Phage the Untouchable into play for two, four, or five mana, we're stuck hardcasting Phage for seven mana, which is way too slow in most matchups. Meanwhile, cards like Abrupt Decay and Assassin's Trophy can be problematic because if our opponent can kill our Torpor Orb or Tocatli Honor Guard with our reanimation spell on the stack (and if we only have one copy of Torpor Orb or Tocatli Honor Guard on the battlefield), we'll lose the game when Phage enters the battlefield. The upside is that if we can dodge these blowouts, we can win as early as Turn 3e, which is fast enough to keep up with even the best decks in the Modern format!

The Odds

The odds for Phage's Vengeance are a bit complicated. Overall, I played five matches with the deck, including a match against Urza that I decided to cut from the video, not because we lost (which we did) but because it was super boring and long. Our opponent's Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo was shut down by our Torpor Orbs and Tocatli Honor Guards, but our reanimation plan was shut down by their main-deck artifact-based graveyard hate. The end result was that our opponent eventually would find an Urza, Lord High Artificer, tap all of their artifacts for mana, and cast two or three free spells every turn until they eventually managed to get enough artifacts that they could slowly sacrifice them to Thopter Foundry and win with 1/1s. Counting this loss, we technically went 1-4 with Phage's Vengeance. 

However, one of our losses came from a mind-blowing punt on my part, where we had a Goryo's Vengeance for an unblockable, hasty Phage the Untouchable on the stack to win the game when our opponent played a Snapcaster Mage with a Surgical Extraction in the graveyard. I scooped, thinking that our Phage the Untouchable would be exiled and we would lose the game, somehow completely forgetting Torpor Orb, which not only shuts down Phage's negative enters-the-battlefield trigger but also Snapcaster Mage's enters-the-battlefield trigger as well. We were quite literally 100% to win the game and match when I conceded. So even though it counted as a loss, the deck did enough to win that match—I just messed it up—which would have made our overall record a much more respectable 2-3.

Speaking of our record, one of our other losses game to a GB deck that twice managed to draw Abrupt Decay just before we went to reanimate Phage, so rather than winning us the game, Phage the Untouchable ended up killing us instead. All this is to say that while our overall record was 1-4, we technically should have been 2-3 and, with a bit of luck, could have been 3-2. While Phage the Untouchable isn't a super-competitive card in Modern, it is unique and fun, and the deck was good enough to steal a decent number of wins along the way!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Amonkhet Remastered releases tomorrow, so let's play some new-to-Historic jank next week. Vote here!.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today! Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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